When it comes to protein drink options, there are a lot to choose from. There are ones for bulking up, for slimming down, for nutrition management and for keeping hunger at bay. Now there’s a new one for older people.
Based in El Seguno, Calif., startup Perennial’s plant-based protein beverages are geared towards consumers 50 years and older. Perennial’s single-serve beverages contain a mixture of pea protein, soy protein, almonds, and rice protein. It also has dietary fiber to maintain a healthy gut, and shiitake mushroom powder and algal oil for brain health.
For now, Perennial only has one product: a single-serve beverage with a vanilla flavor. You can buy a twelve-pack of the drinks on Perennial’s website for $34.99, which comes out to almost $3 each. The drinks are quite small — more Yoo-Hoo, less Gatorade — and each one contains 140 calories and 8 grams of protein. They’re intended to be a snack, not a meal replacement.
Interestingly, co-founders Sara Bonham and Brent Taylor (who previously co-founded Beyond Meat) are only in their mid-30’s. “We’re creating a world we want to age into,” Bonham explained to me over the phone recently.
Their choice to target the 50+ demographic isn’t only altruistic — it’s also a savvy business play. “There’s a lot of noise going after millennials,” Bonham said. But older demographics — specifically those over 50 — have been ignored.
That means there’s a huge, relatively untapped market. Ten thousand people per day are turning 65 in America; yet according to Bonham, only 1 percent of global innovation addresses them. I’m not sure where she gets that number, but anyone paying attention to food innovation trends can see that the vast majority of new products are targeted at Millennials and Gen Z, capitalizing off their demand for plant-based food, personalization, convenience, etc.
Products for older people, on the other hand, tend to lean towards convalescent care. But as the population ages and people stay fit for longer, older consumers are searching for foods that will help them stay healthy and active.
That’s where Bonham thinks that Perennial can gain traction. However, Perennial’s greatest strength may turn out to be its greatest weakness. The company is clearly targeting an older demographic, but I’m not sure if Baby Boomers will be into it. They care less than younger generations about whether or not their food is plant-based, and relatively few purchase groceries online.
To me, Perennial seems like a drink that will actually end up attracting Millennials. After all, it has everything they like: it’s plant-based, full of trendy ingredients like algae and mushrooms, and is available for online delivery. Maybe Millennials will introduce Perennial to their parents and get them hooked?
The real test will be when Perennial starts rolling out to different retail channels, which Bonham told me they’re hoping to do soon. Will their plant-based drinks jump out to older generations who are passing by a grocery shelf filled with other protein drinks like Ensure or Muscle Milk? A lot will come down to branding. To that end, the startup does have a little bit of funding to play around with: it raised a $2.5 million round in August of 2017 with participation from SOSV amongst others.
I sampled one of Perennial’s drinks and found it to be pretty tasty. There was still a bit of chalkiness and a bitter aftertaste that I’ve come to associate with plant-based dairy — especially ones that contain pea protein — but overall it was good: sweet, creamy, and filling enough to sustain me over the long stretch between breakfast and lunch.
Would I buy it on the reg? Probably not. There are other, more readily available protein drinks and snacks I can grab at the corner store, and Perennial’s added benefits of bone, brain, and gut health aren’t quite enough to entice me. However, maybe by the time I’m 50 I’ll feel differently.